Returning results with FIDO programs

     Imagine what would happen for preliminary hearings if a relatively small amount of narcotics didn't need to be sent to the crime lab for analysis. Instead, a plastic bag containing what looks like cocaine could be examined and tested by a...

     "You need to have people who are dedicated to training the officers and making sure they're getting a good background and good understanding of how the test kits work so they can testify in court," Crump says.

     Interested officers must pass tests to become certified and then recertified annually. When officers pass after a two-day class, they have confidence that they can presumptively test for drugs and testify in preliminary hearings.

     From an officer's perspective, "It makes us better cops," says Doi.

     Quality assurance checks ensure testing and paperwork are done properly. When Phoenix began its program in 2000 with 15 officers, every field test was rechecked for almost six months. Today samples from every officer in the program are randomly tested.

Utah's identification test kits

     Before adapting FIDO guidelines to meet their needs about two years ago, the Utah Bureau of Forensic Services' four labs struggled with "a hodge podge" of drug test kits from 140 law enforcement agencies throughout the state. Officers were using various test kits in the field and weren't always trained how to use them. In the courts, some judges and attorneys were willing to accept the presumptive results from these tests, while others were not.

     With some prosecutors unwilling to look at a case until they had a report from the crime lab in hand, agencies began sending everything to the crime lab, where only eight forensic scientists did all of the controlled substance testing.

     "You can imagine what a problem that would be," says Laboratory Director Jay Henry of the Utah Bureau of Forensic Services. "We quickly got overwhelmed and had terrible turnaround times. Most of the cases didn't even go to court."

     Drug evidence was submitted simultaneously to the labs, regardless of whether or not they were going to trial. Some had either been pled out or resolved in another manner. With all the cases submitted together and no way to distinguish which needed a full analysis, the crime lab was forced to test everything, Henry says.

     One costly solution was to have the lab analyze all the evidence for all the cases. To do so would have required more people and more equipment — but the legislature wasn't eager to provide funding.

     The bureau opted instead to follow FIDO guidelines (with some adaptation) and have screening done by those who knew the status of the case best — the officers making the arrests. Today, more than 100 Utah police officers and evidence technicians are trained to do screening at their agency, and testify in preliminary hearings that a substance tested presumptively positive for cocaine, methamphetamine or heroin.

     Thinking that some local agencies wouldn't purchase test kits because of the additional cost, the Utah Bureau of Forensic Services designed and built its own kits to distribute to local agencies free of charge. In addition to screening samples, the Utah Narcotic Identification Test can be used to look at paraphernalia or other items that might be more difficult to test with standard kits, says Henry, adding that the bureau is willing to share directions with other agencies how they put the kits together. The custom-made kits test for three drugs, which represent about 85 to 90 percent of the drugs officers see, he says. Marijuana is excluded because Utah has a separate, local program that trains officers to become marijuana leaf technicians.

     At the same time, Utah learned NFSTC was putting together a field investigation program, and also learned about the program in Phoenix. "We implemented a lot of their philosophy and some of our own," Henry says.

     Being able to tailor the program to meet a department's needs is as important as being able to change officer training to keep current with the latest drug trends.

     "We train them with up-to-date knowledge, competency test them and check on them year to year," he says.

     At one point, drug analysis at one of Utah's four labs would take months. An agency can now submit a case and get a report back in less than two weeks or, in some cases, less than a week depending on demand. The lab is also in a better position to respond to the critical "rush" cases, and can often turn those around in the same day.

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